Editorial Roundup: Kansas

Kansas City Star. May 19, 2022.

Editorial: Every GOP Missouri and Kansas US representative voted no on baby formula bill — but 1

Wednesday, the U.S. House approved a bill providing $28 million to the Food and Drug Administration “to address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula.” The vote was 231 yes, 192 no.

Every Republican U.S. congressman and congresswoman from Kansas and Missouri, save Rep. Ann Wagner of the St. Louis area, voted against the money. Every one.

For those keeping score, that’s a big no from Reps. Tracey Mann, Ron Estes, and Jake LaTurner in Kansas; in Missouri, Reps. Sam Graves, Vicky Hartzler, Billy Long, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jason Smith voted no.

All were following the direction of GOP leadership in the House, which offered vague opposition to the measure in the hours before the vote. Rep. Steve Scalise said Democrats offered the bill “in hopes of covering up the administration’s ineptitude by throwing additional money at the FDA with no plan to actually fix the problem.”

In truth, the bill won’t solve the infant formula shortage overnight. The bill, which still needs Senate approval, is only a small step in addressing the critical shortage of food for infants.

But the GOP votes are clarifying anyway. This is about politics, not children: Republicans in Congress are far more interested in using the shortage as a political issue than actually addressing the problem and feeding hungry infants. That’s appalling.

The roots of the shortage are complicated and deep. Infant formula production is limited — 90% of the nation’s formula is packaged by just four companies. The supply chain issues that have rocked the larger economy have played a role in the baby formula shortage.

The U.S. imports very little formula, in part because of safety concerns. Taxes on formula imports are also very high.

But the current crisis began earlier this year, when one manufacturer shut down a major production facility in Michigan over concerns about contamination and sickness. The subsequent loss of formula disrupted supplies across the country, which prompted a run on the product and some hoarding, making a bad situation worse.

The government is trying to unstick the mess. The FDA has authorized reopening the Michigan plant. Wednesday, the Biden Administration invoked the Defense Production Act, which enables the government to require private makers to prioritize formula components.

Against this backdrop, $28 million will have little immediate impact. But it could help in the weeks ahead, by allowing the FDA to increase industry oversight and get more formula on the shelves.

There are important questions involving infant formula production and consumption that the government should address once the crisis has abated. Should the nation diversify formula production? Should it import more baby formula? How can the nation respond to shortages more quickly?

What Congress cannot do is degrade regulations for infant formula, or relax oversight. Babies should not be forced to drink substandard formula, or risk illness and death just to get more cans on the shelves.

And Congress should not turn the shortage into a political issue, ready for exploitation from either party. The government must do what it can, in a bipartisan way, to help out hungry kids and their parents. Finger-pointing is always possible later, and in the current environment, inevitable.

The Senate should approve the $28 million bill quickly. Then the country can address the supply issue, to make sure this calamity never happens again.